I now call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 37 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on April 21, the committee is meeting for its study on corporate offshore licences.
Today’s meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of January 25, and therefore members can attend in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings are made available via the House of Commons website, and the webcast will show only the person speaking, rather than the entire committee.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow. Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either the floor or English or French. You will also notice the platform’s “raise hand” feature on the main toolbar should you wish to speak or alert the chair. Before speaking, please click on the microphone to unmute yourself. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses for today. For the first panel, we have, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Adam Burns, director general, fisheries resource management; Heather McCready, director general, conservation and protection; and David Whorley, director, national licensing operations.
Before we go to the opening remarks by Mr. Burns, I would like to welcome Mr. D'Entremont, from West Nova, back to our committee again. Also, of course, we have Mr. Kent, the member for Thornhill, with us. It's good to see you both here today.
Mr. Burns, when you're ready, you can start, for five minutes or less, please.
Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon to the members of the committee.
My name is Adam Burns and I'm the director general of fisheries resource management at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. As you noted, I'm joined by Heather McCready, the director general of conservation and protection, as well as David Whorley, the director of licensing operations.
We're here today in support of this committee’s study of offshore fisheries, including the processes related to licensing and quota transfers. We appreciate the opportunity to be here.
I would like to briefly touch on some of issues that may be related to this study, and I hope that we will be able to provide better and further details for you over the course of today’s discussion.
The offshore fishery in eastern Canada comprises those vessels greater than 100 feet in length. There are presently 97 offshore licences in eastern Canada and the Arctic, which account for about 37% of total landings in the area.
On the East Coast, the Department remains committed to Canadian ownership, and to the review of fishing company purchases to ensure the ownership requirement of being at least 51 per cent Canadian-owned to be eligible to receive the fishing licences is met.
Under the Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada, if foreign interests acquire over 49 per cent of the common shares of a Canadian-owned corporation which holds fishing licences, the licences will not be reissued to that corporation upon the expiry of those licences.
In addition, regulations provide that where there is a change in the controlling interest of a corporation that holds a fishing licence, DFO must be advised of the change within 15 days afterward.
The ownership review requires that the licence-holder and all parent companies that hold a controlling interest in that licence-holder be majority-owned by Canadians. The intent here is to prevent foreign interests from establishing effective control over licence-holders in the offshore.
While on the east coast offshore licences are issued to companies, which can designate various vessels to fish the licence, on the west coast, a vessel-based licensing regime is used. In that case, when there is a change of vessel ownership, DFO requires a notice of change of ownership documentation from Transport Canada to indicate the vessel owner or owners on record and Canadian vessel registration. A similar 15-day time limit for this notification is set out in regulation.
With respect to offshore licence transfers, licences are not, strictly speaking, transferable. That is, licences are not generally considered as property, and so cannot be legally sold or bequeathed. However, the Minister does have discretion to reissue a fishing licence held by one licence holder to another harvester, upon request from the licence holder and agreement from the potential recipient.
In those cases, officials conduct a review for Canadian ownership of the transferring party, as described. As well, the minister takes into account any land claims obligations that could be relevant to the request of transfer. Finally, the minister has broad discretion to consider the broader public interest in making any decisions related to a request for a licence transfer.
With respect to quota transfers, there are two varieties: temporary and permanent. In the case of temporary quota transfers, those being in-season transfers from one harvester to another, officials ensure that the transferring party and transferee have mutually agreed on the amount to be transferred, that all licence fees have been paid to the Crown, and that the transferring party has the quota available to support the transaction. This type of transfer terminates at the end of the fishing season, at which point quotas are allocated anew in light of available catch and the fishery's sharing scheme.
With respect to requests for the permanent transfer of quota attached to offshore licences, officials conduct a review for Canadian ownership that mirrors the process for licence transfers, and ensures, among other things, that all fees and fines have been paid. Finally, if the proposed permanent transfer would alter the agreed-to quota-sharing arrangement for a given fishery, the department consults with industry on the proposed transaction.
With respect to commercial versus communal commercial licences, these two forms of licence exist under different regulations, the former under the Atlantic fishery regulations and the latter under the aboriginal communal fishing licences regulations.
Technically speaking, there is no transfer from one type of licence to another. Rather, a harvester would have to notify the department of the licence relinquishment, and then the department would have to receive a separate request for a commercial communal licence.
The request to establish a new ACFLR licence provokes a review as enabled by section 8 of the fishery (general) regulations. Communal commercial licences can only be issued to “aboriginal organizations”, as described in the regulation, rather than to an individual or a company, as in the case of commercial licences in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
I hope the committee finds these brief overview comments useful. We look forward to the committee's questions.
If we're looking at a licence transfer and at the question of ownership, there are a few things. Typically, licensing officers will request a set of information, as well as an information attestation from a lawyer. The kind of information that would be requested would be things like the certificate of incorporation or the articles of incorporation showing the ownership structure of a company. With respect to that attestation, there's a requirement to prove that the applicant or that the respective recipient meets the Canadian ownership rules. The kinds of materials that you could get there would be things like individuals who have beneficial ownership—say, greater than 10% of the shares in an organization—the individual shareholders, the individuals that have significant control with respect to the prospective licence holder.
That review looks at not only the narrow sense of the prospective recipient but also the complete corporate structure, so you move through the entire structure to ensure that that 51% is met. When you get to about that point and the officer or the executive that's overseeing that is satisfied with it, then you've met the ownership responsibilities, and the transaction would go ahead, assuming that all other fees and fines are paid and that all the other regulatory considerations are met. That's kind of a quick overview of the kinds of ownership reviews that you'd do.
There was a technical problem. I apologize for that, Mr. Chair.
So let me start again.
I would like to thank all the witnesses for joining us today to answer our questions.
I was saying that I had similar concerns to those expressed by Mr. Arnold, and we have shared interests. I am wondering about the distinctions between the policies and regulations in effect in the Pacific provinces, in the Atlantic provinces and in Quebec. I would like to know the principles on which those distinctions are based.
The witnesses can frame their answers in a number of ways. I do not know who can answer my question, whether it's Ms. McCready, Mr. Burns or Mr. Whorley, but I invite each of them to do so, if possible.
Mr. Chair, I can begin in responding to those questions.
The structure of the fishery has evolved differently on the east coast than on the west coast. On the east coast, we have an offshore fleet and a separate inshore fleet, whereas that structure and approach has not been employed on the west coast.
While on the east coast we license individuals or corporations and companies under our commercial licensing regime, on the west coast it's largely, anyway, a vessel-based licensing regime. Because of that, the policy frame that backs that up is different. The focus of our review on the west coast is the ownership of a vessel and the registration of that vessel with Transport Canada; and the focus on the east coast is the corporation to whom the licence is issued directly.
As a result of that evolution of two different approaches on the two coasts over time, the policy approach has also developed differently, and necessarily differently, in the sense that it needs to be established to support a different approach to the licensing regime.
I would like to ask about something we were told at the last meeting. Despite what we're hearing now, witnesses were telling us about difficulties in applying policies and regulations because of the lack of resources. They were saying that it makes the work of the department difficult. These were people in the business.
Do you think that that is the case?
Just now, we were told two things at the same time. First, we were told that is not possible to get around the regulations and, second, we were told that people are concerned that some do succeed in getting around them. Then again, we are told that everything is overseen and everything is going well, while, at the last meeting, we were told there are a lot of difficulties with oversight and that resources are inadequate. In a word, a lot of things have gone by the board. For 40 years, blind eyes have been turned to things that are actually happening.
What is your opinion, Mr. Burns, Ms. McCready or Mr. Whorley?
Thanks for the question.
Prior to the coming into force of the inshore regulations, we were working with a policy, which is a different beast to implement. We now have the inshore regulations, which are, I think, what folks were referring to when they were referencing resources. The difference we now have—and this isn't related to the offshore—is that those inshore regulations prescribe licence eligibility related to being an independent inshore harvester and maintaining the rights and privileges of that licence themselves. There's an eligibility requirement in order to have a licence issued to you. If you are not compliant with the eligibility requirements, a licence cannot be issued to you.
In the prior circumstance, with PIIFCAF, that wasn't the case. It wasn't a regulatory eligibility requirement but rather a policy, and so the timelines were much more protracted. It is true that some harvesters would be under review, which is what it was called under PIIFCAF, for an extended period of time.
Under the inshore regulations, if there is a question around eligibility and around the separation of those rights and privileges from the licence-holder, then that licence-holder would need to demonstrate their compliance with the regulations before a licence could be reissued to them. The moment their licence expired, their ability to fish would cease until they rectified that and a new licence was issued.
My thanks to all the witnesses for joining us today.
I am going to turn to Mr. Burns and continue along the same lines as my colleagues, on the subject of foreign interests, which have an ever greater presence in our country.
Mr. Burns, you are probably aware that the fishery is going well in our regions. Quotas are up. The resources are there, both lobster and crab, and the prices are currently extremely good. The concern is that more and more companies are coming into our regions and offering fishers ridiculous prices. They are sometimes offering two or three dollars per pound more for crab or lobster.
I fully understand that the provinces are responsible for processing those products. However, before they arrive at the wharf, they are still a resource that belongs to Canadians, for which the Government of Canada is responsible.
Do you know a company called Royal Greenland, which has an ever greater presence in our region? It has made some offers for shrimp, in Quebec and in Newfoundland, if I'm not mistaken. On the wharf this year, it was even paying two dollars to four dollars more per pound for both lobster and crab.
I don't need to spell out the consequences of that practice for you. Our fishers are going to sell their product to those companies, including Royal Greenland, which is subsidized by the government of Denmark. If those companies operate in our region and are offering prices like that, our fishers are going to sell their products to them. We will then have problems when they take control of the market.
I could name a number of other companies, such as Champlain Financial Corporation, which is buying up more and more plants in our region.
Are you aware of those investments and of the presence of those companies that are also subsidized by the government of Denmark?
What are you doing to make sure that our fishing industry stays in our coastal communities, as you said earlier?
I now call the meeting back to order.
I would just like to make a few comments for our next slot of witnesses. When you are ready to speak, click on the microphone icon to activate your microphone. When you are not speaking, your microphone should be on mute. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly.
I would like to welcome our second panel of witnesses.
From the Maritime Fishermen's Union, we have Mr. Martin Mallet, executive director; from Regroupement des pêcheurs professionnels du Sud de la Gaspésie, Claire Canet, project officer; and from the Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance, Colin Sproul, president.
We will now hear opening remarks from Mr. Mallet for five minutes or less, please.
Thank you on behalf of the Maritime Fishermen's Union for giving us the opportunity to speak today. Our organization represents over 1,300 independent inshore owner-operator fishermen in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
We are grateful that all parties supported changes to the Fisheries Act, protecting owner-operators and fleet separation in legislation with the purpose of keeping Atlantic Canada's public resources in the hands of fishers in their communities, and protecting the inshore fisheries from corporate control and influence.
However, we are still very much at risk of losing our fisheries from other angles.
In recent years, mom-and-pop and family-run and community-based fishing and processing enterprises have been on the international menu to be bought and agglomerated by large corporate interests owned by foreign nationals or out-of-province investors. Whereas locally run enterprises would reinvest most of their business revenues within their community and province of origin, large-scale corporations are interested in profits for shareholders, not sustainable rural communities that depend on a local fishery's resources.
There are more and more examples of foreign ownership takeovers of our marine resources and benefits across Canada. On the east coast, we can cite, for example, Royal Greenland in Newfoundland and Quebec, Thai Union in New Brunswick, Clearwater in Nova Scotia with the recent involvement of the Premium Brands Holdings component and, as was mentioned earlier by Monsieur Cormier, Champlain Investment in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—and the list goes on.
For today's presentation, I'll use the example of the Champlain Capital company, based out of the U.S., but with an affiliate company, which is the Champlain Financial Corporation out of Montreal, to illustrate the concerns since 2017.
Champlain has taken control of eight processing plants in small rural communities across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Officially, this investment group has tried to promote the positive impact of this merger for the regions by stating the creation of more opportunities for synergies and reduction of costs, as well as the development of new products.
However, it is also the creation of a monopoly, with the potential of creating an uneven business environment for the remaining local processing plants, potentially driving them out business to remove competition, and opening the door to fix the price of fish for local fishermen. Furthermore, dividends from local businesses that would have generally remained in the communities to the benefit of other supporting businesses and community members now go to out-of-province and international shareholders.
Also, will they shut down some of the less efficient plants in order to improve profits to further consolidate and improve bottom lines? To this question, the answer is “yes”. For example, back in 2020, one of their recently bought plants in eastern New Brunswick burned down and was never rebuilt. Instead, they reinvested in their other processing facilities, thus consolidating and improving company profits at the expense of the community that lost their plant. Most of the 150 plant workers when the plant burned that day lost their jobs—in a small coastal community where the fisheries sector is the main employer.
In closing, our organization supports the need in our industry for appropriate access to capital for continued maintenance and growth of the fishing and processing sectors. However, there is an urgent need, number one, for an effective set of strategies for the monitoring and hedging of foreign national interests in our public marine resources. Maybe a working group of federal and provincial governments, industry and economic, financial and legal experts could be struck to do a thorough study of the situation and develop strategy options to address the issues. Currently, and as stated in the presentation by DFO just before mine, the present DFO and provincial management fisheries structures do not have the tools necessary to address foreign ownership control issues of our Canadian fisheries resources and benefits.
The second point I want to raise is the need for appropriate financial aid programs to support intergenerational transfers of owner-operator fishing licences to new entrants, but also, incentives to support processing sector businesses so that they can remain locally owned and operated. However, even the best programs here will not be able to compete with the deep pockets of international corporations.
Finally, our public fisheries resources must be considered as part of our Canadian national interest and food security priorities. Currently, they are being taken away from Canadians at an alarming rate. This issue has to become a priority for our elected officials and policy makers.
Thank you. I'm looking forward to your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Distinguished members of the committee, thank you for hearing the testimony today from the Regroupement des pêcheurs professionnels du sud de la Gaspésie, which represents 148 lobster fishers.
The coastal communities of the Gaspé depend heavily on the commercial fisheries, including the lobster fishery, for their economic well-being. Lobster fishing represents employment for almost 600 people.
In Quebec, seafood processing plants, which depend on the catch in order to operate, employ 3,500 people. In 2019, commercial fishing in Quebec, which includes fishing by First Nations groups, represents a total value on the wharf of $378 million. Lobster harvesting in the Gaspé represents 24% of that total value.
No less than 80% of that catch in Quebec is exported, with 20% remaining in Canada. However, when we look at the corporate structures, such as Clearwater or Royal Greenland Québec, the percentage of the catch that is exported is clearly greater. For example, Royal Greenland, which owns the processing plant in Matane, makes offers on the wharf to guarantee itself as much of the catch as possible, as Mr. Cormier pointed out earlier. The company exports 95% of the catch to Europe or the United States, leaving only 5% of the seafood products harvested here to feed Quebecers and Canadians.
In 2019 and 2021, Royal Greenland used the techniques that Mr. Cormier mentioned. These are very alarming for the health and vitality of our Canadian processing plants, which provide the fishers with a number of buyers.
In its annual report for 2019, Clearwater emphasized that its main market was export. Indeed, more than 90% of its sales are made abroad. Its strategy is to continue to benefit from its wide range of species, its scope on the world market, and its customer base to generate profitable growth and broaden its sales through new markets and outlets. For example, we can point to its association with Premium Brands in increasing productivity and reducing costs. These are the input costs, of course, meaning the price paid for the catch. This generates higher margins because of the vertical integration of its global supply chain.
Royal Greenland and Clearwater are two examples of foreign companies becoming involved in processing and therefore in the fisheries themselves. This also applies to Canadian companies with a strategy of vertical integration focused overseas. This has a direct impact on Canada's food security, because the amount exported is clearly greater than normal exports by companies that are local and wholly Canadian.
Clearwater and Premium Brands are actually not holders of commercial inshore fishing licences. As we have heard from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the DFO, these companies cannot obtain inshore fishing licences. However, Clearwater is now 50% owned by a number of First Nations groups, who themselves own several dozen commercial inshore fishing licences. These are communal licences, so the protection afforded by the new owner-operator regulations does not apply since these licences are communal.
By a twisted logic, communal-commercial fishing licences, both current and future, that commercialize the catch owned by those First Nations groups, do not protect the licence holders. This runs counter to the spirit of the regulations and to the protection of our resource for the benefit of the fishers and of Canadians.
In a situation where access to the fishery by First Nations is increasing in order to allow them to achieve a moderate livelihood, we cannot but see an increase in the number of communal licences. This will result in more control over, and commercial sales of, vulnerable catches. This will be the result unless the DFO ensures that all fishing licences that allow the catch to be sold commercially enjoy the same protection.
To us, it seems fanciful to believe that these companies, such as Clearwater, which are part of a strategy of vertical integration and control over fishery markets, do not see an opportunity in unprotected access to an increasing number of commercial communal fishing licences and in the catches that result.
With the corporatization of the fisheries, without safeguards, we will clearly be seeing an erosion of the scope of the Coastal Fisheries Protection Regulations, which also provide protection to owner‑operators. In addition, an increasing number of commercial fishing licences will be exposed to takeover by a small number of companies.
The corporatization of fisheries through vertical integration and private investment serves only to pay dividends to a few shareholders— individuals, families or foreign governments, as in the case of Royal Greenland—rather than having the profits pass to coastal communities as the priority.
Without anyone noticing—
Good evening, Chair and honourable committee members.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear tonight.
The Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance is a newly formed alliance of commercial fishery stakeholders calling on the Government of Canada to establish clear, lasting, responsible regulatory oversight for all fisheries: commercial, food, social and ceremonial.
Established in 2020, the UFCA represents thousands of independent, multi-species commercial fishermen and fishery associations from across the Maritimes. Our membership also includes small to medium-sized businesses that are directly or indirectly tied to the Atlantic Canadian commercial fishery. For thousands of Atlantic Canadians who work on boats, wharves, processing plants and throughout the supply chain, the commercial fishery is their livelihood. For rural communities and governments, the fisheries represent jobs, a tax base and economic impact that helps to provide vital services for all residents.
Unfortunately, regulatory uncertainty is causing anxiety and concern amongst fishers and other industry stakeholders over the long-term sustainability and prosperity of the industry. Clear rules, regulations, compliance and enforcement are needed.
We want to work with the Government of Canada and first nations to inform and understand viewpoints and ultimately establish regulatory certainty. Our members reject all forms of racism, intolerance and violence and believe that there is a path to move beyond the controversies and heated rhetoric of recent months to a positive outcome for all. The UFCA believes that indigenous and non-indigenous fishermen can work side by side, like they do today in the commercial fishery. We recognize and acknowledge the importance of co-operation with indigenous communities and that indigenous fishermen have a right to fish for commercial, food, social and ceremonial purposes.
Just as commercial fisheries operate today, there is room for diversity. There can be differences within allocation structures, administration and process; however, rules must ultimately and clearly form part of an integrated set of regulations that can serve fishery resources for generations to come and ensure a fair and respectful fishery for all.
Tonight I would like to discuss the imminent Clearwater Seafoods deal and its risks for coastal communities.
The current framework of the deal represents a tremendous missed opportunity for further integration of indigenous fishers into Atlantic fisheries and reconciliation in our communities. It picks winners and losers amongst first nations and further divides indigenous and non-indigenous fishing communities needlessly. There is a better way, and it starts with open dialogue and an end to secret deals at DFO. Communities adjacent to resources deserve a voice in decisions made in Ottawa, and when they are excluded from the conversation, they invariably lose.
We have serious concerns surrounding the proposed framework for the deal, including the lack of protection from the future potential for transfer of ownership of Canada's natural resources to a foreign entity, threats to the owner-operator policy, needless concentration of fishing efforts and others. Clearwater's monopolized lobster fishing area alone is larger than all lobster fishing areas of Nova Scotia combined. The current deal would exclude all fishers but one giant factory-style ship from this huge economic potential, including a majority of Nova Scotia's first nations and all moderate livelihood fishers.
What should be of equal importance to this committee is the fact the current deal would surely pit Mi'kmaq against Inuit in a battle for access to valuable northern shrimp and fish quotas. This fact could be a motivator for the deal and must be explored in more detail. It would be difficult not to view Clearwater's recent outreach to include indigenous partners as a response to the government's rightful decision to abide by the principles of adjacency to a resource in fisheries management and take a portion of the company's valuable quotas and deliver them to northern communities, both indigenous and non-indigenous.
It is beyond belief that the current government can ignore the potential for this fishery access to aid in the integration of moderate livelihood fishers. While it may be possible for the politicians involved on all sides of this deal to consider it a purely business transaction, it is surely not viewed that way in fishing communities across Atlantic Canada. The reality is that what's best for indigenous fishers, the people out on the water trying to make a living, is also the best for our members. What's best for a large corporation seldom is. It is high time for government to unite us along these lines instead of dividing us. All communities can benefit from these resources if their voices are allowed to be heard.
I'm anxious to give more details on a better way forward.
Honourable members, thank you. I invite your questions.
Again, I'll give you a few more examples, but I want to reiterate that I really don't have many solutions to the issues that are currently being raised today and have been in the last few weeks by this committee. I think this is a first step, and there needs to be a thorough study done by a group of experts to come back with some more details and potential solutions.
It seems to me, from my perspective in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, that in some areas where the value of the licences and fishing enterprises have been increasing phenomenally in the last 10 years, such as the inshore lobster fishery in areas of New Brunswick, all of a sudden over the last five years there's been a lot more interest from “outside of province” interests and international interests. They buy into the local corporate processing sector and agglomerate these plants, which in some cases can be bought for a few million dollars.
It's still early in the game in some areas where maybe it's not too late to try to turn back the scene, but in some areas across Nova Scotia and on the west coast, particularly in B.C., there are flagrant examples of corporate international investments, and they need solutions.
Good afternoon to all the witnesses, including Mr. Mallet and Mr. Sproul, from the Atlantic provinces, and my neighbour across the bay, Ms. Canet.
Mr. Mallet, I want to go back to the Clearwater situation. We have had an explanation from departmental officials. I would like to know what you are afraid of in that transaction, so we can understand the problem. I think we got a fairly full picture from the officials. They seemed to be saying that everything is done according to the standards.
What are you afraid of?
I want to get a sense of the scope of this. I know you talked about first nations. You have concerns that they may be disadvantaged.
Could you give us a summary of the situation?
Mr. Mallet, just to go back, I know I've been quoted a lot in terms of being the one who has named this company, Royal Greenland, a lot, but look, I think I'm not the only one who faces this challenge. As you know, in this region this year I received a lot of phone calls from fishermen and producers that they were present on the wharf and were offering a lot of money to fishermen for their catch.
DFO officials seem to have said that it is maybe more of a provincial issue, but at the end of the day, as I said, the resource belongs to Canadians. I think we will have a huge problem if we let that happen with a company like Royal Greenland, which is backed by the Danish government. Everybody is thinking about it.
What do you think the department should do about that? It will be a huge problem if we lose the industry that we've built over many years in our communities. What do you think we should do about this?
My thanks to all the witnesses for joining us today.
I think there is a concern about this issue. Earlier, we talked to people in the department, and they didn't see what concerns we might have about the situation and how the regulations can be twisted to put companies under foreign control. So I'm glad to hear the testimony of the witnesses, which shows the opposite. In fact, it is worrisome, but we must find solutions, as Mr. Mallet mentioned. We have to find strategies to counter what is happening now. We are very aware of that.
I have questions for all the witnesses, but I'll start with Ms. Canet, who talked about the lack of socio‑economic knowledge and understanding on the part of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Ms. Canet, could you elaborate on the negative impact on our coastal communities, on food sovereignty, and on our resources, as Mr. Cormier mentioned?
Thank you for the question.
At no time in the last few years have we been aware of any socio‑economic impact studies conducted by DFO on decisions they may have made, whether it be, for example, in the management of the right whale—where our regional county municipality (RCM) lost $9.5 million when the fishery was closed—or the exclusion of communal licences from owner‑operator protection, or even vertical integration agreements, such as the one with Clearwater.
The impact is indirect, but it will happen and it will affect the prices paid to fishers. For example, in the lobster market, we can't negotiate our prices right now. Fishers land their catches and a week later they find out how much they will be paid. When you have a buyer's monopoly, where companies like Clearwater and Champlain come in and take control of the purchases, the fishers, who are supposed to have full power to independently reap the benefits of operating a fishing licence, are in a position where they can no longer reap those benefits because they have no power.
The DFO has never examined this socio‑economic aspect, which is an integral part of operating a licence. The DFO has no knowledge of the socio‑economic environment in which fishers operate their licences.
Earlier, we talked about an economic sector in our communities potentially disappearing in favour of larger companies and foreign companies. I am concerned about that as well. I have to tell you that I find the government very unresponsive to all the studies we conduct in this committee. Public servants report to the government, of course, but I think the same applies more or less. My observation is that the government is not proactive either.
Mr. Mallet, you talked about a strategy. If it's not up to the departmental officials, who are not concerned at all, and it's not up to the government, then who is it up to? What do you suggest?
We are parliamentarians, and some of us are in government, but some of us are not. What can we do on our side to go further and faster to better meet the needs of the sector?
I addressed my question to Mr. Mallet, but of course Ms. Canet and Mr. Sproul can answer as well.
Thank you, Chair. I will be splitting my time with Mr. Cormier.
To the witnesses, I want to compliment all three of you. I was very impressed with the testimony you gave. You articulated very well the situation facing the east coast fishery. We all know who loses—fishers, in the long term, at the shore price when you have corporate consolidation. In the buying area, they have to recover their investments. They recover it through reducing the price to fishers for the raw resource. That is a tried-and-true corporate philosophy and policy. It won't be any different in this case. We have to be vigilant.
I have just one question before I turn it over to my colleague. The issue that we as a government have to be vigilant on, in ensuring that our first nations communities, who fought so long to get access to the fishery and to communal fishing licences, is that those communal licences must remain within the ownership and control of the first nations communities who have them.
Am I correct, Martin, Mr. Sproul and Ms. Canet?
Thank you, Mr. Morrissey.
Mr. Mallet—this is not because you're my favourite, but you are from my province—you said earlier that licences are at a high price right now. For crab it's around $12 million or $15 million, and for lobster it's $1 million or $1.5 million. When I see licences leaving my province and leaving my area, it's troubling to me.
Is there anything we can do to stop that? I know that the residence criteria are all different within different provinces. What do you think we should do to stop that?
The new Fisheries Act was about fleet separation and protecting owner‑operators, but I think the spirit of the act was also to keep these licences in our communities so that they would not only benefit the fishers, but also the communities.
What should we do to stop the licences from being sold to other provinces and to foreign interests?
Thank you, Mr. Cormier. That was only a few seconds over on the five minutes.
That absorbs our full time this evening, a little over two hours for our committee meeting.
I want to say a big thank you, of course, to our witnesses: Madame Canet, Mr. Mallet and Mr. Sproul. Again, it was a very informative meeting for our committee as a result of the knowledge you shared with us this evening.
I want to say thank you to committee members, the clerk, the analysts, translation and the interpreters, and everyone involved in making this meeting go as smoothly as it did this evening.
I'll bid everyone good night and call the meeting adjourned.